Meningitis in Children (cont.)
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Causes of Meningitis in Children
Bacteria and viruses cause the great majority of meningitis disease in infants and children. The most serious occurrences of meningitis are caused by bacteria; viral-caused meningitis is common but usually is less severe and, except for the very rare instance of rabies infection, almost never lethal. However, both bacterial and viral types of the disease are contagious.
Meningitis normally occurs as a complication from an infection in the bloodstream. A barrier (called the blood-brain barrier) normally protects the brain from contamination by the blood. Sometimes, infections directly decrease the protective ability of the blood-brain barrier. Other times, infections release substances that decrease this protective ability.
Once the blood-brain barrier becomes leaky, a chain of reactions can occur. Infectious organisms can invade the fluid surrounding the brain. The body tries to fight the infection by increasing the number of white blood cells (normally a helpful immune system response), but this can lead to increased inflammation. As the inflammation increases, brain tissue can start swelling and blood flow to vital areas of the brain can decrease due to extra pressure on the blood vessels.
Meningitis can also be caused by the direct spread of a nearby severe infection, such as an ear infection (otitis media) or a nasal sinus infection (sinusitis). An infection can also occur any time following direct trauma to the head or after any type of head surgery. Usually, the infections that cause the most problems are due to bacterial infections.
Other more rare causes of meningitis that are noninfectious are cancers, head injury, brain surgery, lupus, and some drugs. There is no person-to-person transmission from these relatively rare causes.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2014
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